Despite widespread use, loot boxes remain a highly controversial element of modern video game design. There have even been efforts to recognize them as a form of gambling in the UK. Some countries, like Belgium and the Netherlands, have outright banned them. And with their biggest proponent, EA, no longer backing the FIFA franchise, it is very likely fans will still see loot boxes implemented in future FIFA titles.
FIFA likely to pick up where EA left off with Loot Boxes
Though an old topic, critics remain. So far, 18 European countries have backed a report accusing the gaming industry of exploiting and manipulating consumers with loot boxes. The report singles out FIFA 22 and the popular Ultimate Team mode. A study conducted to investigate the controversy surrounding loot boxes saw how likely it is to obtain one of the game’s best players for your team, Kylian Mbappe. The study found the probability of getting the player card in a Jumbo Rare Players pack was 0.11%. This meant a player, on average, would have to purchase 847 Jumbo Rare Players packs to obtain the Frenchman for their side.
Of course, these are the most expensive packs when using in-game coin currency. Alternatively, players can spend real-life money to purchase the pack. Additionally, the report discovered leaked EA documents suggesting the design of FIFA games encourages players to spend money to obtain their favorite players. However, this controversy is not new. EA has readily defended its seemingly predatory practices, only being defeated once by its own community with Star Wars Battlefront 2.
Are they here to stay?
The short answer is likely yes. Loot boxes rake in billions of dollars for the video game industry, this is especially true for EA. Last year, FIFA 21 loot boxes generated more than £1 billion in revenue. The company, and others like it, have recorded record profits year after year as a result of providing in-game purchases like cosmetic designs and new color schemes to apply to your chosen character. Campaigners argue Ultimate Team packs and loot boxes subject young people to essentially gambling, and unlike with the best online casinos, there is no age restriction on purchasing these packs. Nonetheless, companies remain determined to press forward with loot boxes.
Most have remained relatively unscathed in spite of this criticism. The public’s rejection of the Star Wars: Battlefront 2 loot box system will go down as one of the pivotal moments. While it slowed down the addition of loot box mechanics to other games, it did not put an end to them. Some governments are becoming more aware of the practices but remain relatively powerless to stop them. Games like FIFA and Fortnite have had to justify loot boxes to Parliament, claiming the system is no worse than Kinder Eggs. EA’s Kerry Hopkins, Vice President of legal and government affairs, insisted loot boxes are ‘surprise mechanics’ and no different from toys such as Kinder Eggs or Hatchimals.
In the United States, a collective effort has been made to stop companies from further exploitation. A letter submitted to the Federal Trade Commission in June called for the FTC to investigate EA over its loot box feature in games. The letter, signed by more than a dozen organizations including children’s advocacy, consumer rights, and gambling support groups, alleges EA “unfairly exploits children and teens for profit” with their loot boxes. The response has not been as emphatic as gamers would have hoped for. The FTC has largely avoided addressing loot boxes except for a 2019 workshop that outlined the associated risks with the practice.
However, European countries have been quicker to link loot boxes to problem gambling and legislate against it. Countries like Netherlands and Belgium have introduced ‘loot box laws’ that have outright banned the practice to the point where games such as Diablo Immortal are no longer being released in those countries. In 2019, EA stopped selling FIFA Points, which cost money and can in turn be used for packs, in Belgium due to its loot box laws. The UK government has also had its say on the matter but stopped short of legislation. Instead, it raised awareness of the potential mental health, financial, and problem gaming-related harms associated with loot boxes. The UK did not recognize loot boxes as a form of gambling and noted the high cost of regulation would have implementation challenges and unforeseen consequences.
There is clearly a demand for stronger protections in the industry in Europe but they are fighting a losing battle. It’s predicted that the industry profits from loot boxes are expected to soar to nearly £20 billion by 2025 and while the increase of purchases of loot boxes by gamers is forecast to shrink to 5% per year up until 2025, that is still a relative growth and more money in the pockets of companies like EA. There’s still a lot of positive discourse regarding the action that could be taken to stop the practice, but there is a long way to go to fix the problems that do exist. For now, it seems loot boxes in FIFA are here to stay.
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